You Won’t Fool The Children Of The Revolution

So…the National Women’s Liberation Conference were given a Birmingham secondary school for their gynecomorphous gathering in April 1978. An adjacent primary school was earmarked as a creche & the sisters asked the Communist Party to recruit an all-male crew to administer & amuse their ankle biters while, across the road, a long overdue comeuppance for patriarchy was planned. Martin, a workmate, was a cultured, book reading Euro-Communist. Fresh out of academia & new to inner city living, he was discovering that Antonio Gramsci had not really prepared him for that earthy crucible of the revolution, the Brummie working class. On the basis that I knew a hammer from a sickle he asked me if I would come along & help baby-sit. It seemed that it could be fun or it could be weird. With a little luck it just might be both so I was in.

Women's Liberation – Rise Up! Feminist Digital ArchiveWe, my wife & I, had lurked on the fringes of International Socialism. Shared picket lines, sold their papers. In 1977 I.S. became the Socialist Workers Party  & robust anti-racist/nazi policies were right up our street fight. We were Groucho Marxists who believed that the essence of capitalism was not only exploitative but ridiculous. Those S.W.P. types often lacked a sense of humour, never a good thing in anyone ever. Anyway, we refuse to join any club that would have us as a member…of course ! My wife had wanted to attend the conference but she was unemployed at the time & her budget was tight. No radical feminist worth her sodium chloride was going to let a man pay for the weekend, even if whatever that man had was her’s (& what she had was her’s too !). That same male…that’ll be me then…found a way she could make her contribution to the event.

As New Men we were down with the kid watching but there would be babies too, “mewling & puking in the nurse’s arms”. We would probably need some assistance here, some female assistance.

We both showed out for the Friday night meeting to discuss the weekend’s strategy. It was held in the school assembly hall, a school for the under-11s. Things, especially the chairs, were out of scale. The gathering found this funny & an informal tone, which we liked, was set. Yeah, stuff had been arranged, a division of labour was quickly & loosely agreed upon but the agenda was driven by the fact that the pubs closed at 11 p.m. That’s some right thinking. Come the revolution there will be 24 hour opening…oh, hang on.

The worst place to make a schoolboy error is too near to schoolboys. I walked into the school/creche the following day & a couple of lads ran up to me & asked if I would play football with them. I replied that I needed to at least take my coat off first. Now where is the “Yes” in that sentence ? An increasing number of small persons trailed me to the cloakroom…these pegs are a little low !…It appeared that they had hooked a sucker…that would be me then. The Pied Piper of Ladywood led his new posse outdoors. How had this happened ? No worries. We had a playing field, a big pitch, proper goalposts. A kickabout where I was 3 feet taller than most of the others. I was sure to get a hatful of goals today !

Things started poorly. The bigger kids wanted to use the full pitch & both goals. I was refereeing a rubbish overstretched game where the younger, smaller ones were not getting a kick. Something had to be done. These children all had strong, opinionated guardians many of whom encouraged their offspring to be similarly assertive. It was only after elaborate centre circle diplomacy that they allowed me 5 minutes to back up my claim to know a whole lot about football & just as much about having fun.

This was more like it. We were kicking into one goal while I reffed, played goalie, threw the ball to the older ones, palmed it out so that the little ones got a kick, kept up a commentary on the game & used the eyes in the back of my head to keep the even smaller ones behind the goal safe. I kept these plates spinning & everyone seemed to be having a good time, especially me. The beautiful game wins again. After another fearless plunge at the feet of a startled 5 year old, preventing a certain goal, I was at eye level with a familiar pair of ox-blood Doc Martens who’s owner enquired just what did I think I was up to ? She…that would be my wife then…knew exactly what was happening. Her bemusement was fake, her amusement wasn’t. She was impressed that I could supervise & entertain 25 children with no serious injury to them or myself. She was also loving looking after the babies & suggested that we should have 1 of our own so we could do this every day. Holy Shit ! For the next few minutes the kids were scoring for fun past a slightly dazed goalkeeper.

When tea-time came around I herded my grass-stained troupe back indoors. The familiar sweet smell from the kitchen confirmed that the catering crew had been getting high while they were getting busy with the burgers, chips & beans. Good seventies nourishment in a pre-McDonald’s world. The 150 kids, probably raised on a diet of right-on macrobiotic mush, loved this stuff. We had the full range of sauces, red AND brown, I holstered up a bottle of each, grabbed a quick toke then aimed my condiments in the general direction of some plates. There was a pile of noise, much of it laughter, it was a party. My new friends wanted more football stories & I had a million of them. We handed some grubby, happy kids back to their owners. The men had got the job done. I checked my wife’s bag in case she had decided to keep one of the infants & we headed off to grimy Victorian Aston Cross for a couple of of deserved & needed pints in a grimy Victorian pub.

The Cross & its pubs have gone to gentrification now. This memoir comes from a different time too. The next day there was more fun stuff, more weird stuff only less frantic, at our creche but the National Women’s Liberation Conference ended in acrimonious division between lesbian separatists & socialist feminists (Hey, I don’t want to label anyone & I’m certainly not choosing sides). There were to be no more conferences. Within a twelvemonth the shopkeeper’s daughter was running the shop & we were living in Thatcher’s Britain. The attack on “the enemy within” (her words) began. The idea that council premises could be provided for the frank & open discussion of revolutionary strategy found itself on the losing side of an argument. A random group of men, regardless of political inclination, loosely supervising a throng of other people’s children…well that don’t fly too high nowadays.

The world has changed in so many other ways & I’m not about to take sides about this. A couple of things…in April 1978 the splendorous anthems of Patti Smith’s “Easter” were only displaced from our turntable by newly released debut LPs from the likes of Magazine & The Only Ones. The N.W.L.C. passed a new demand that weekend demanding “Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.” So much has changed but some things remain the same.

I do hope that those lovely, open, energetic children with whom I shared my weekend have passed these qualities on to their children & their grandchildren who, like the comrades before them , have some ideas of their own about affecting the world for the better. That’s it.

She Looked Good She Looked Fine… (Paul Jones and Privilege)

In the Swinging Sixties British Music Explosion it was all about the beat groups. There were singers of extraordinary individuality who stood out front in the spotlight but the boys in the band had got their back. This gang mentality became so entrenched that young solo singers, particularly the men, seemed a little solitary, like something was not quite right. The charts show that Tom Jones, Engelbert & others had big hits but our parents were still buying records…that was nothing to do with us.

Manfred Mann came out of the same West London rhythm & blues scene as the Stones & the Yardbirds. They were pretty wild & the 3rd single, “5-4-3-2-1” was the theme for the coolest show around “Ready Steady Go”. In the same year, 1964, they covered a song written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich out of New York’s hit factory, the Brill Building. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, smashed it around the world. There were a lot of good bands caught on the “you’re only as good as your last single” treadmill in those pre-Sergeant Pepper’s times but the Manfreds made the move from Blues Brothers to pop poppets with a touch too much haste.

Out front was singer Paul Jones (Mann was the beardie, Jazznik keyboard player). Handsome, articulate, smiling & telegenic Jones was Jagger-lite. No stranger to soap, Jones was the rocker you could bring home to meet your mum. He was at Oxford University before the music thing got serious. The screams from the audience in this live appearance are for him. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is one of a run of assured commercial choices, a good Dylan cover usually worked out. The next single, the lovely “Pretty Flamingo”, was a 2nd UK #1 then Jones left the group. This was big pop news. The singer remained with the label while the group were moved along.

“High Time” was the teen idol’s debut solo single &  boy does it suck. Producer John Burgess had worked with Manfred Mann, both he & writers Chas Mills & Mike Leander were pop people. Any tinge of R&B had vanished. The hip-shaking, harmonica playing Jones was reduced to bouncing around to bubblegum. The song was a hit, he was prepared to work for his money. There is a certain nostalgic camp about the jingle but “Paint It Black” it is not. In 1966 a couple of young Stevies, Winwood & Marriott, spent a lot of time in the Top 10 with their bands the Spencer Davis Group & the Small Faces. These sharp dressed, blues-influenced shouters were the thing. In comparison Paul Jones seemed old-fashioned. In 1966, this was not the thing.

When he left the band Jones said that he wanted to act. His debut was in “Privilege” (1967), the first made for cinema project by the faux-documentarist director Peter Watkins. Now I’m the wrong guy to be telling you about Peter Watkins. His films have always stirred conflicting opinions. His committed, innovative, emotional style of film-making captures an honesty which gets his work banned or marginalized.  “Privilege” was trashed as “hysterical”, “amateurish” even, by the cinema owners, “immoral”. It is none of these things. The film is a companion to “If” (1968), Lindsey Anderson’s classic about youth revolt.

Paul Jones, the real pop star, plays Steve Shorter, the same only allegorical.Shorter is used by the media, religion, government, all those bad boys, to subvert popular culture in favour of profit & power. It all gets a bit much for Steve & the grass seems greener on another side when he meets an artist played by Jean Shrimpton. I’ll write that again…Jean (supermodel) Shrimpton. Bad craziness & an exaggerated satire ensues. Within a few years the US Government are commercializing thus controlling the anti-war/counter-culture movement. Here in the UK the cynical manipulation of public opinion by Thatcher’s government so that they could fight a war with Argentina…well, it reminded me of this movie. The full movie is on the Y-tube right now, just a couple of clicks away. Patti Smith’s take on the film’s theme is just one click away.

Paul Jones did not make too many films or too many hit records after “Privilege”. His old band hired another good-looking, articulate, presentable young singer & retained their place in the UK Top 10 for the next 3 years. Jones retained his boyish looks for far too long, he did work in a lot of musical theatre. I have an almost forgotten memory of his starring role in a very forgotten musical in Birmingham. He was, always, the guy who sang “There she was just walking down the street singing…” & that counted for a lot.

He gigged regularly with the Blues Band & the Manfreds, a band with some of his old mates. He now has a well established national radio show playing the best of traditional & modern Rhythm & Blues. The last Blues DJ held in such high regard was Alexis Korner. Way, way back in the early 1960s, before any of this show business stuff seemed at all possible, Paul Jones (P.P.Pond) duetted with Brian Jones (Elmo Lewis) at the Ealing Club, home of a Blues scene centred on Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Man, those West London boys got around & stuck around !